11 Sep 2020

MPI launches independent review into livestock shipments after Gulf Livestock 1 tragedy

4:17 pm on 11 September 2020

The Ministry for Primary Industries has launched an independent review into of assurances it receives for the transport of livestock by sea.

Gulf Livestock 1 vessel off the shores of Malaga in 2018.

Gulf Livestock 1 vessel off the shores of Malaga in 2018. Photo: Frans Truyens via Vessel Finder

The review is in response to the ship Gulf Livestock 1, which had 43 crew, including two New Zealanders, on board when it sank in a typhoon in the South China Sea last week. The ship had left Napier in August and was carrying almost 6000 cattle.

The New Zealanders - Scott Harris, 37, and Lochie Bellerby - two Australians and 36 Filipino crew members are missing. Three crew were found; two were alive but one man was unconscious and later died.

On Wednesday evening, the Japanese Coastguard called off the search for the missing crew from the ship.

Mike Heron QC will lead the review, which is expected to take about a month.

It will look at the assurances MPI receives when it considers an application for an Animal Welfare Export Certificate (AWEC) required for exports of live animals.

While this is underway the temporary suspension of cattle livestock exports will remain in place.

"At the heart of our decision to temporarily suspend cattle livestock exports is a commitment to helping ensure people and animals on livestock export boats are safe," MPI director-general Ray Smith said in a statement.

"We are working closely with exporters, who have provided assurances that animals currently on pre-export isolation farms are in good condition and well looked after."

According to the Ministry for Primary Industries, 28,000 cattle are awaiting export and are currently on four quarantine farms.

MPI said the animals were being well looked after and no decision on their future has yet been made.

National Animal Welfare Advisory Committee former chair John Hellstrom has said he believes the temporary ban will be lifted to allow for the cattle to be exported, but after that he wants the practice stopped.

Both sides question need for review

Meanwhile, the independent review into livestock exports by ship has been criticised by both animal rights and farming groups.

Marianne Macdonald from the Animal Rights Group, SAFE, said MPI had been looking into the live export trade since it began a separate review in June last year.

"This seems to be MPI's response to everything," said Macdonald. "We're still waiting for the review that was announced last year."

She said the review wouldn't make a difference for the animals going to countries with lower animal welfare standards and it was clear the practice needed to be banned.

A group representing exporters, the Animal Genetics Trade Association, said the safe shipping of people and animals to their destinations was hugely important to its trade.

But spokesperson David Hayman said a necessary review of ship safety following a maritime disaster has inexplicably morphed into an unnecessary wider review into the welfare of animals.

"The government has already been assessing the animal welfare factors in breeding stock export, through a separate review they have conducted over the last 12 months.

"This was a maritime disaster - the first in 25 years for a livestock ship out of NZ or Australia, and it should be investigated as such. The welfare of the animals during export voyages is a different issue from the safety of people and animals following the capsize of Gulf Livestock 1."

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